What are the advantages of using a wireless local area network (WLAN)?

As a 30-person office expanding to 50 plus, my head of IT thinks we should switch to a wireless local area network (LAN). Is he right and what returns can I expect to see?

A. John Coulthard from Microsoft writes:

For a rapidly expanding business a wireless network has much to recommend it. The network can be installed in minutes using a ‘plug and play’ base station. Once it’s up and running, new PCs with wireless cards can be linked to the system effortlessly, without the need to waste time trailing cables across the office.

For this reason, wireless networks are popular in industries heavily reliant on freelancers, such as graphic design. On arrival, freelancers can just fire up their laptops and plug straight into the corporate network. Wireless also makes sound business sense for companies with employees working across offices.

For companies based in converted factories and warehouses, a wireless system may be the only solution if the structure of the building restricts the effective roll out of a fixed network.

There are many reasons for businesses to weigh up the benefits of a move to wireless, but there are some important considerations. For a business setting up an IT network from scratch, wireless will almost certainly be the most cost effective option. However, for those businesses that already have a fixed network in place, adding a wireless extension may prove better value than ripping out the existing infrastructure and replacing it. The cost of all options should be thoroughly examined.

For companies that do move to wireless, it’s vital to ensure that the network is secure. The network’s reach extends beyond the company’s walls and the ease with which new users can be added to the network points to the vulnerability to access from outside. Research in the City by security company RSA found that it took, on average, two-anda- half hours for someone to attempt an unauthorised connection. There are a number of steps that protect the system, such as using the in-built encryption, avoiding default configurations and network names that identify the organisation. All businesses should already have strong passwords and a firewall to further bolster defences.

Wireless networks offer good value for money. In terms of delivering a return on investment, a wireless network offers considerable savings in man-hours by eliminating cables and speeding up network connection for new users. There’s also the advantage that should relocation be necessary in the future, the whole network can be unplugged ready for quick installation at the new premises. There are additional benefits that can’t be costed.

The wireless office can also play its part in fostering an attractive, stimulating environment to work in: staff, unchained from their desks, are free to work in office spaces best suited to the task in hand.


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